I can’t believe I missed this when it came out last week: yet more evidence has emerged that whatever they may be, the Tea Partiers are not really Libertarians. 

Now, you may think this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s important to realize that the common narrative that they are a Libertarian, free-market group is not really accurate.

Andrew Sullivan discusses some more evidence.

P.S: The title of this post is a reference to this. Yeah, I’m a geek.

I have to admit: when I first heard about Christine O’Donnell, she seemed okay to me. So she was unemployed and spent all her time running for senate. “Good for her,” I thought, “lots of people are unemployed; it doesn’t make you a second-class citizen.”

Then the witch thing was pretty weird, but again; one could argue that at least it shows a sort of open-mindedness which most liberal-leaning people tend not to expect from Republicans. Even in light of all her strange quotes, she still seems like a nice person to me, if a bit odd.

The thing is, (assuming I lived in Delaware, which I don’t) I wouldn’t vote for her based on the fact that she seems like a nice person. Yet, I have to assume that this is why her supporters are voting for her, in the absence of any actual track record.

And then this “I’m you” ad comes out, which I find very interesting indeed. Not because of what she says so much as the design of the ad; it’s not about policy but rather about emphasizing O’Donnell’s “likeability”. (Robert Stacy McCain, a conservative blogger and supporter of O’Donnell, has a good analysis that more or less agrees with mine.)

While it is true that representatives are indeed supposed to represent my interests, I do not believe that they need to be exactly like me to do so. I personally would prefer someone who explained why they were better at certain things than me.

That said, since this is much the same rhetoric used by Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and other “Tea Party” leaders, I’m forced to conclude that it appeals to a lot of people.

This all goes back, I think, to the fundamental shift in American politics which I discussed in this post (and which was described much better than I could do by an Anonymous commenter on same post) and this post. People now seem to judge politicians more on their personality, appearance and affability than on their education, philosophy and policies.

I wouldn’t actually go so far as to say that Christine O’Donnell is a remarkably charismatic person (yet), but she is at least the result of the same phenomenon that drives the increasing power of charisma in the political system–it is not anything which she has specifically done that excites people, but rather her very personality.

Andrew Sullivan today writes of “The Palinite know-nothing neurotic nationalism.” (He also links to a very interesting article in that post, so check it out.)

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say “know-nothing neurotic”–the Republicans, the Tea Party and Palin seem to exhibit rather typical, run-of-the-mill nationalism to me. But you gotta love the alliteration, and the important thing is to recognize the driving force of the Tea Party–and thus, the Republican party–for what it is.

Incidentally, The Eclectic Iconoclast has a good post today about the Tea Party’s idealization of the Founding Fathers that helps explain this behavior. Basically, from what I can tell, nationalists usually believe that in their nation’s past it was a splendid paradise, and that the present-day imperfections are the result of a decline in National spirit and traditions and the rise of decadent cosmopolitanism, which must be stopped before the country can return to its past glory.

As the Iconoclast mentions, it’s an old, old idea; obviously calling to mind the story of the Garden of Eden and the supposed “fallen” nature of humanity. Perhaps that’s why it resonates with so many people–it’s a “universal theme”. (I’ve read about this sort of stuff before, somewhere–the works of Joseph Campbell, probably–though I can’t remember all the details.)

Quoted in Der Spiegel, the German business daily Handelsblatt says of the Tea Party:

 In the US…  ‘Right-wing’ represents Reagan, religion, the free market, individualism, patriotism and small government. In reality, it is an impossible mixture: National pride, God and tradition are conservative ‘us’ values. The profit motive, competition and a weak state are ‘me-first’ sentiments .

Quite right. This is the major fault line that runs through the Republican party, and has ever since Nixon.

If the Tea Party does gain much power, I expect quite a struggle between these two groups.

Like I said, I don’t have lots of time to blog right now,  but there are two points I want to get clear before anything else happens. First:

In his article “How Obama Thinks“, Dinesh D’Souza writes: “In his own writings Obama stresses the centrality of his father not only to his beliefs and values but to his very identity. “

By way of proof, he quotes this from Obama’s book Dreams from My Father: “It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself.”

This is out of context. This is in fact the part of the book where Obama is becoming disillusioned with his father. The next paragraph in Dreams is: 

 “Now, as I sat in the glow of a single light bulb, rocking slightly on a hard-backed chair, that image had suddenly vanished. Replaced by…what? A bitter drunk? An abusive husband? A defeated, lonely bureaucrat? To think that all my life I had been wrestling with nothing more than a ghost!”   

 Second thing: If there’s anything to be learned from the victory of Christine O’Donnell, it’s that whatever the Tea Party is about, it’s not just a tax revolt, or demands for a balanced budget. That much seems clear. O’Donnell’s credentials are far more in the area of religious conservatism, not fiscal conservatism. (Admittedly, most people knew the Tea Party wasn’t just about taxes, but this makes it more clear than ever.) Andrew Sullivan put it best: “She’s to the religious right of Jerry Falwell – and we keep being told the tea-party is just about economics.”

Sadly, I don’t have time to do in-depth posting or research on either of these matters, so if anyone reading this cares to look into these things, I’d appreciate it. If I got something wrong because I was in a hurry, I’d like to correct it.

Conservatives and Libertarians are fond of saying that Liberals put too much faith in the power of “Big Government.” Some of them have even gone so far as to say that Liberals have a religious devotion to the Government, treating it, the claim goes, as a sort of omnipotent deity. (This rather libertarian-minded charge, incidentally, dovetails nicely with the Religious branch of the Conservatives’ deeply-held belief that Liberals are godless, hedonistic decadents.)

As I’ve mentioned before, I myself was once a libertarian, and I will confess that perhaps there is some truth to the claim that liberals believe overmuch in the power of government, though surely the idea that they see Government as God is rather hyperbolic. But that’s an issue for a different post.

For now, I wish to examine rather the conservatives’ view of government. For, if liberals overestimate the government’s power to good, I think the conservatives overestimate its power to do ill, or at least have a misguided view of what a government behaving badly might look like.

Conservatives spend entirely too much time nowadays harping on the theme of alleged tyranny by the U.S. government. It’s a dramatic thing to say, of course, and is surely likely to arouse people’s interest in small-government philosophy. And furthermore, it is certainly a good idea to be constantly vigilant for signs of tyranny. Did not all the tyrannical dictators of history arise because not enough people were wise enough to be on the lookout for the first hints of their plans?

It is my opinion that tyranny, dictatorship, Stalin-esque police states, etc., are the more terrible but (fortunately) far less common type of government failure. The problems the average, law-abiding U.S. citizen is likely to run across when dealing with the government stem not from dictatorial brutality, but instead from the dull inefficiency of a massive bureaucracy.

Now, I do understand why, say, the Tea Party crowd feels a need to talk more about tyranny and less about bureaucracy. Tyrannies are fun to rebel against, bureaucracies are boring. More importantly, the monstrous atrocities committed by tyrants litter the pages of World History, whereas the comparatively banal problems of bureaucracies are the stuff of dull Economics textbooks.

So, perhaps it is inevitable that Tea Party propaganda (to use the word in its neutral, Bernaysian sense) will always rely on the rather dramatic idea of the current Government engaging in Tyrannical and Authoritarian behavior. For propaganda, like humor, relies on exaggeration to make its point.

Nevertheless, I feel it is dangerous–indeed, potentially ruinous to the libertarian streak in the Tea Party–to continually argue against governmental brutality that, while no doubt a thing to be avoided and guarded against, is far less often a problem for the average citizen than is the near omnipresence of inefficient and incapable governmental red-tape.

Bureaucracy is a far less interesting thing to oppose; and is far harder to solve, but I believe that it is the true problem with “Big Government”.

All comments are welcome, and disagreement is encouraged.

Kathleen Parker has an interesting column discussing politicians’ appeals to “small-town values”, in which she criticizes them–Sarah Palin, in particular–for making it seem as if small towns are superior to cities. She writes: “In the politician’s world, small towns are where “real Americans” live, as opposed to all those other people — the vast majority of Americans — who live in urban areas.”

She then details the feeling of community she experienced living on Olive Street in Washington D.C. She sums up thus: “small-town values have nothing to do with small towns.”

Predictably, the website “Conservatives4Palin” has ridiculed Parker, saying that Palin’s new book has done nothing to criticize those who live in urban areas. The critique of Parker laid out by “Conservatives4Palin” attempts to dodge the real issue; they claim that Parker was merely criticizing Palin’s upcoming book, when in fact she was criticizing Palin’s very worldview. Because Parker was writing not of Palin’s book, but rather of her infamous quote from the 2008 campaign:

If you can’t see the video: Palin said, in part: “We believe that the best of America is in the small towns that we get to visit, and in the wonderful little pockets of what I call ‘the Real America’.”

Does this not imply that small towns are superior? “The best of America” seems to me to leave little up to interpretation. Of course, this sparked a firestorm of outrage from the Left at the time; and Palin “clarified” (retracted) her remarks.

I am reminded, whenever anyone alludes to this incident or to Palin’s “elitist” bashing in general, of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, wherein he draws the distinctions between Culture and Civilization. As the Wikipedia article says:

“He [Spengler] contrasts the “true-type” rural born, with the nomadic, traditionless, irreligious, matter-of-fact, clever, unfruitful, and contemptuous-of-the-countryman city dweller. In the cities he sees only the “mob”, not a people, hostile to the traditions that represent Culture (in Spengler’s view these traditions are: nobility, church, privileges, dynasties, convention in art, and limits on scientific knowledge). City dwellers possess cold intelligence that confounds peasant wisdom, a new-fashioned naturalism in attitudes towards sex which are a return to primitive instincts, and a dying inner religiousness.”

This is no surprise; for Spengler was a Nationalist, albeit a very pessimistic and fatalistic one. The Nationalist always seems to find the people of the countryside preferable to those of the city; and hence it is to be expected that Palin feels the same. She, and the Tea Party, are nationalists through and through, as I have said before.

Parker, on the other hand, is not. Her outlook is rather one of cosmopolitanism, (which is Greek, literally, for “Universal City”) the opposite of Nationalism. And thus Palin’s words hold no meaning for her. Nationalists and Cosmopolitans cannot understand one another even when they speak the same language.

I read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism when it first came out in 2008, but now that it is part of the Tea Party canon, I thought I’d try to go through it again. Besides which, I’ve posted numerous times on here about many of the issues Goldberg discusses in it, so it may be useful to go over it again.

There are two major errors I can recall just by skimming through it, both of which undermine some of its rather interesting observations:

  1. Goldberg puts too much stock in labels. So, those who called themselves “Progressive” in the early 1900s are of the same “family tree” (to use Goldberg’s metaphor) with those who do so today. The most fundamental instance of this problem is Goldberg’s oft-repeated use of the standard “Right vs. Left” dichotomy across both time and cultures; as in the chapter “Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left”. This is a mistake for reasons which I explain here, and I think it undermines the entire thesis to an extent.
  2. The issue of Nationalism and how it relates to Fascist movements is one which Goldberg does not spend enough time examining. This is a very dangerous thing to do, considering that what we classically think of as “Fascism” (Mussolini, Hitler) is very nationalistic, which, if Liberals are supposed to be Fascists, does not mesh well with the common Conservative idea that Liberals are anti-American. (When asked about this in an interview, Goldberg responded: “I just would want to emphasize that that ultra-nationalism comes with an economic program of socialism. There’s no such thing as a society undergoing a bout of ultra-nationalism that remains a liberal free-market economy. The two things go together…Today’s liberalism, there’s a strong dose of cosmopolitanism to it, which is very much like the H.G. Wells “Liberal Fascism” I was talking about … These trans-national elites, the Davos crowd who really want to get beyond issues of sovereignty…I think that is much more of the threat coming from establishment liberalism today, but I do think there is a lot of nationalism there too.”)  

Still, these issues aside, it makes for an interesting read. Perhaps I’ll post more in-depth points later.

Andrew Sullivan is “trying to understand the Tea Party.” It’s interesting, though he doesn’t seem to have reached my conclusion, at least not yet.

One thing Sullivan realizes:

 “The Bush-Cheney presidency was, in some respects, the perfect pseudo-conservative administration. They waged war based on loathing of the experts (damned knowledgeable elites!); they slashed taxes and boosted spending for their constituencies, while pretending to be fiscally responsible; they tore up the most ancient taboos – against torture – with a bravado that will one day seem obscene; and they left the country in far worse shape than they found it.”